Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Carnegie Report: Can Legal Education Be Reformed?

Stephen Griffin

This semester I helped sponsor a faculty reading group at Tulane to go through Educating Lawyers, the much-noted Carnegie Report on legal education. I imagine other law schools have been doing the same thing, reading the report in an earnest way. Our faculty group was intrigued, but mostly unimpressed by the tone and substance of the report. Some were put off by the jargon from the world of learning theory, others by the implicit assumption that every student is looking for the same sort of experience in law school. I was somewhat disappointed by the failure to use more examples from the 16 law schools the Carnegie group visited in the course of their study. For all this effort, the two schools employed most often to illustrate the points of the report were NYU and CUNY. I suspect the usage of these schools as examples of the best in legal education will prove problematic for many law professors. While I have the utmost respect for NYU, where I taught in the Lawyering program in its first phase (when Tony Amsterdam was in charge), that program requires enormous resources and is beyond the capacity of most law schools. I can’t comment on CUNY except to say the examples in the report were so at odds with how Tulane has developed its upper-level curriculum so as to make them unusable for our faculty.

In reading around on the web for reactions to the report, I note many seem to absorb the report’s emphasis on weaving practice skills into legal education but ignore the points made about emphasizing a moral orientation/values of professionalism and the cogent critique of that most hoary means of assessment, the law school final examination. Apparently there is no other form of professional education that relies on a single means of assessment at the end of the semester. I’ve never been a fan of finals, but that makes me an outlier among my peers.

The Carnegie Report has a twin, the Best Practices for Legal Education volume written by Roy Stuckey “and others.” I’ll report in when we finish it, but I’m not sanguine that my colleagues will have a more favorable reaction. One of the thrusts of both volumes is that it is basically a mistake to center the upper-level curriculum around ever more epicycles of advanced courses in highly specialized areas of law. But that’s exactly the strategy Tulane has employed over the years (and with some success!) in areas such as admiralty, environmental law, and comparative law. On the other hand, we do have five clinics we are proud of, and clinical education is certainly approved of by both reports. But that leads immediately to the old debate over clinics, their cost and low student/faculty ratios pose problems in terms of other things the school could be doing.

A final point concerning Carnegie is that some of my colleagues saw it as yet another ABA “unfunded mandate” waiting in the wings. This points up a real problem with the report. To its credit, the report early on identifies some external factors which limit the extent to which law schools can change the way they educate. But as the report proceeds and draws conclusions, these external factors vanish, leaving the impression that if law schools fail to change, it will be because of a failure of will, not that the report was calling for changes that involve substantial resources most law schools simply don’t have.


Online Bachelors Degree

To the adult educator all this means a need for more efficient and effective courseware. We need to put our creative thinking hat on and challenge ourselves and our employer to pilot new approaches. This is not an impossible task, it is a new reality. Greater productivity brought by education and innovation are the only weapon against off shoring. Yet this weapon is a hidden “diamond in the rough”, in George French’s words, as it might bring great new opportunities………….

legal education

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